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Moving from BigLaw to MegaLaw

Posted Oct 9, 2007 12:58 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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When William Cook was in India earlier this year, a local manager wanted to know where in the world his 750-lawyer Atlanta-based law firm housed its foreign offices. The answer: It doesn't have any.

That conversation was one reason why Cook moved from BigLaw to MegaLaw, reports Legal Times. As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, several Alston & Bird partners, including Cook, were among the latest laterals recently lured by 3,400-lawyer DLA Piper, in an ongoing recruiting drive.

The upstart megafirm's initial spark was the merger of Baltimore-based Piper & Marbury and Chicago-based Rudnick & Wolfe, followed by mergers with Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, headquartered in Silicon Valley, and United Kingdom-based DLA. This merger mania transformed the firm, as Legal Times puts it, "from regional to nationwide to global in less than 10 years."

Although it intends to be "the leading global business law firm," according to Francis Burch Jr., DLA Piper's joint CEO, it focuses on four primary practice areas—corporate, litigation, real estate and government affairs—rather than being a one-stop shop.

The firm clearly represents the bigger-is-better mentality embraced by many law firms striving to be more like the large corporations they represent.

But it isn't clear DLA Piper has a corner on the corporate legal market. As some partners join, others leave, Legal Times points out: "The rapid growth has also caused defections. Partners left because of client conflicts, higher billing rates and that intangible sense that the global megafirm was no longer the place they had joined."

Meanwhile, Alston—routinely rated as one of the best law firms in America at which to work—is doing very well financially. And it's also growing, notes James Hutchinson, the partner in charge of its New York office. "Like every other law firm," he says, "we continue to think about where we should be geographically and how big we should be."

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